"Nay," said an older man, who had been watching the chiefs face— "nay, let us talk the matter over."
But it was too late, and the spokesman stepped aside, drawing with him a score of men.
"Is that all?" asked the chief, quietly, and his eyes ran keenly over the faces of the other warriors. "I will consider, for it is well that we should have no differences."
"Hark to the wisdom!" shouted the warriors.
"We must stand together," continued Muata, "or we fall. And I am glad of this thing; it has shown our weakness." He stood a moment, then, with a sudden glance back at his young men, he bounded forward, and with one stroke of his terrible knife struck the leader of the band to the ground. "Hold!" he roared, as the young men, with a terrific shout, sprang forward. "Let a man move but a hand, and he is dead."
There was one breathless moment, during which men stood with upraised spears, their eyes glaring, their breasts heaving, and their breath coming in quick gasps. A woman laughed and the tension slackened.
"Back—back!" and before the fierce word of command the young warriors drew off.
"One is enough," growled Muata, transformed, terrible in his fury, and glaring at the small band who stood around the fallen body. "If I thought that ye were in the counsels of this dog who lies there, not one of ye would be spared. It was in his heart to betray us to Hassan."
"We knew it not, great black one," muttered the men, humbly.
"If I thought ye knew," growled the chief, with a terrible look, "there would be an end to you. See that ye carry yourselves well."
The three travellers had stood fast during this scene, and now Muata, having wiped the blood from his knife, turned to them.
"It is the law," he said, as if in explanation. "Haw! when I descended into the valley, in the night, I heard evil words spoken round the fire. It was time to act, and as it was seen by your medicine, the law was done."
"Ohe! the law was done," chanted the young warriors. "In the dark he came—the great strong one—silently out of the woods, and in the morning he smote."
"It is the law. If any of you feel a thorn in the foot, you cut it out. Good; we are now whole."
"We are whole, O chief," cried all the warriors together. "Good; then we will go up to the gateways to be ready. In three companies we will go, and with each will so one of the chief's white men. Ye have seen how strong is the white man's medicine. If any hold back, the medicine will tell."
The chief divided the men into three equal numbers of about fifty each, which left over some twenty-five of the older men who had sided with the slain man.
"Ye," he said, addressing them, "will stay here with the women; and if it chance that the enemy prevail, take the women and the flocks to the foot of the rocks above, where the white men were. O Inkosikase! (chieftainess)."
Muata's mother came forward, armed with spear, and behind her came other women carrying bows and arrows.
"These men, O mother, will stay by the kraal. They have learnt wisdom; but if they weaken, send a messenger to me."
"There will be no messenger needed, O son," said the woman, as she eyed the cowed men. "So go forth to the battle, for your scouts upon the heights call. They see the man-eaters and the women stealers." Her long arm shot out, and every man stared to the far end of the valley.
Muata gave a few sharp orders, and the first band of fifty young men went off up the valley at a trot.
"O great one, you said the word that helped betwixt me and my men. I go forward with the next band—do you follow with the others; so that when Hassan presses us back, as he must, being the stronger, you will let a part of his men pass through the gate; then stop the rest, and we who ran will deal with those who got through."
"Is that your plan?"
"It is a good plan. When the leopard is caged his cunning goes. Your men will know where to hide; I have overlooked the place."
"Good. The plan will be carried out."
"There is also a second plan;" and Muata fixed his eyes on Compton. "Some men will be hidden within the valley, to fall upon those who enter. I wish the young lion to remain with them."
"I should like that," said Compton, quietly.
"Very well, my lad," said Mr. Hume; "and I think Venning had better go with you. I prefer it. And hark! if the plan fails, you know the way to the boat. Shake hands."
They shook hands, and the two lads placed themselves beside Muata as he went off with the second band. Mr. Hume, with the last company, followed at a slower gait, along a path that skirted the river with its fringe of banana trees, whose broad leaves shone in the sun. After a couple of miles, the river entered the defile through which long since it had cut its way out of the valley. It was at the entrance to the defile that an ambush was formed by Muata of fifteen men, with Compton and Venning. The warriors were already in position behind fallen rocks, the two lads being higher up the slope. They showed themselves as Mr. Hume came up, and waved their hats to him.
"Good luck!" they shouted, with a lump in their throats, for they loved the "great one," and they feared the task allotted to him was full of danger.
"Take cover," he said cheerily; "take good aim; and remember the palm tree, if things go wrong."
"And remember," they cried, "that we want you back safe and sound."
"I'll take precious care of myself," he said with a smile, and followed his men into the dark defile.
"I wish we were going with him," said Venning.
"The next best thing is to do our part as well as we can."
They stretched themselves out each behind a rock and waited.
"There is one thing," muttered Venning, after fidgeting about; "we cannot wait long, for it will be dark within an hour."
"The sooner they come the better."
They watched the shadows creeping across the valley—already over the river and halfway up the opposite slope; they watched the light on the cliffs above; but, most of all, they watched the young warriors crouching below them.
"They hear something," said Venning; and his finger curled round the trigger.
"Keep cool, old chap. Remember, we don't fire until after these men have given the sign. They are coming!"
Sure enough, they were coming. The crouching warriors were quivering with excitement, as their gleaming eyes sought the mouth of the defile, out of which came a confused murmur. From a murmur to a hoarse rumble, then swiftly to the sound of fierce cries, the noise grew, and then a man leapt into view, and after him a score, all running as if for life. The plan was working, but was it not working too thoroughly? Would those men in whom was the panic of flight be able to stand? Muata came last, the long feathers streaming from his head; and as he ran, he shouted at his flying men words of insult. He cleared the defile, and at his heels there grew a fierce and growing clamour. Then, like a pack of wolves on the heels of a deer, the wild men of the woods burst into view. Close together they ran, and when they saw the valley stretching green and peaceful before them, they halted to drink in the sight. They feasted their eyes on the gardens, on the little flocks of goats, on the huts, on the women and children streaming up the slope on the right. Then they shouted in their joy of the promise of blood, of loot, of feasting— shouted and bounded forward. As they were in their stride once more, a wild yell rang out of the defile—a yell of fear and warning, that reached them, and that brought them up with a jerk. They faced round impatiently towards the defile again, and, behold, the mouth was held by a party of the enemy! But only a small party, less than half their number. With a yell they charged, and then they halted, and then they broke, and in a twinkling they had lost their cunning and were themselves the fugitives; for at the first step two of their leading men had fallen, and into the thick of them, from a distance of a hundred yards, came an accurate and unexpected rifle-fire. A trap! They shouted to each other, then broke streaming across the river in a frantic search for hiding. In vain they fled, for the valley seemed alive with men, Muata's band having scattered purposely; while keen-eyed boys, standing in tree-tops, marked down the fugitives, and shouted directions to the hunters. Even the women, led by the chief's mother, came down to join in the pursuit.
This work was not to the taste of the two white boys. They had played their part, and now they entered the defile to seek their companion.
Compton went ahead into the shadows, following the river, and thinking of nothing but the fight that they knew from the sounds was raging somewhere before them. As he turned a corner made by a projection in the wall, a dark hand seized him by the neck, and he was on his back, with a roaring sound in his ears, and a feeling of suffocation.
"What's the matter?" he gasped presently, when the grip on his throat relaxed.
"Can you stand?"
"Yes, of course." Compton got up. "You look queer."
"Feel queer," said Venning. "Enough to make a chap queer to see you go down like that with a big black on top of you."
"Where is he?" and Compton hunted for his rifle.
"Shot him; but, for all I knew, I might have shot you. He fell in the river. Perhaps there are more of them hiding."
"You shot him?"
"Yes—go along; but for goodness' sake don't let another one jump on you."
Compton gripped his friend's hand, then went on, very cautiously this time, for a little way, until he heard the crack of the Express, followed by the Hunter's bull voice calling on the men to "stand fast." He dashed on.
"We are coming," yelled Venning, in a voice that sounded very youthful; but keen ears heard the high treble, and to them it brought comfort.
"The chiefs white men," was the cry that rose, that reached Mr. Hume as he fought coolly, warily, in a crisis of the battle, knowing that, if he gave back an inch, the men behind him would bolt, and Hassan's horde would swarm into the valley.
"Hurrah, my brave lads!" he roared. "You there behind, meet the white men and lead them up to the place where I first stood."
"Yebo Inkose! (yes, chief)" cried a Zulu of the Angoni.
Thus the chief's "white men" were met in the gorge by a dark figure panting heavily, who led them through other dark forms, some lying groaning, others silent—led them up to a ledge that overlooked the enemy.
"What now?" asked Compton, looking at the Zulu, and in the better light noticing the wounds on his head and left arm.
The Zulu pointed down. "Fire, O white men, between that tree and the rock. There they are thickest."
The two rifles flashed out simultaneously.
"Hurrah!" roared the Hunter from below. "Give them the whole magazine."
"Empty the magazines," said Venning between his teeth; and the Lee- Metfords poured out a little rain of thin bullets into a space between the tree and the rock.
"Yavuma!" cried the Zulu.
"Yavuma!" roared the Hunter. "Stand firm, my children!"
The Zulu knelt on the brink of the ledge and peered down into the gloom, out of which came the shouts of the enemy, thrown into confusion, when apparently all was going well with the attack. An arrow struck on the rock, then another.
"The tree," he said, pointing into a great tree-top. "Let one chief fire into the tree and the other at the white spot."
"I see the white spot," said Compton; and again he emptied his magazine, while Venning riddled the tree-top, out of which at the discharge men dropped in haste.
"Cease firing," came the command from below. "Now, my children, forward once more. They run."
"They run!" shouted Muata's men, as they swept out from the defile after Mr. Hume.
"At the white spot," said the Zulu, gripping Compton by the arm. "Fire; ye will not hurt our men. There are men with guns where the white is; and, see, others join them. Quick! Shoot, white men, or they slay our friends."
A flame spurted out from the gloom down where the white specks gathered, and the Lee-Metfords were not idle. The little bullets rang into the place where those white-robed Arabs were waiting with their rifles, and before they could play their part, the beaten van of their assaulting party broke upon them in their flight. The battle was over! Muata, returning from the killing of the men he had decoyed into the valley, raised the shout of victory, and the two boys went down into the gorge to join in the throng of exultant and excited warriors.
"Way for the chief's white men!" cried the Angoni Zulu, staggering from his hurts.
"Bayate! to the white men," shouted the warriors, rattling their spears.
"We are no chiefs men," said Compton, proudly.
"Ohe!" said Muata, overhearing the words. "Lion's cub, I hear. Ye shall have the chief's feather; and the great one, where is he?"
Out of the darkness beyond came the chant of deep voices—the song of the men who had held the gate, "The great one," "Lion-throated," "He whose roar filled the valley," and so on, until they recognized the form of their chief, when very wisely they directed their praise to his deeds.
Mr. Hume, bare-armed, reeking of battle, hoarse from shouting, stepped up and gripped hands with the boys.
"We go to our house on the hill, chief," he said.
"There will be feasting to-night, my brothers, and your places will be beside the chief," said Muata.
"'Sot for us. Feast well; but watch well also, for Hassan has not had his fill. Come, lads."
They left Muata giving directions for guarding the gate, and went back through the gorge into the valley, and down towards the village, where they were met by a band of women carrying torches and singing. The women formed a ring about them, and in this the chiefs mother danced, stamping her feet, and clapping her hands, while she sang of the battle.
"We go up to the cave," said Mr. Hume, when the dance was over. "Send us food, mother."
"In plenty, O shield of my son!"
"And hark to this, wise woman—see that the warriors drink sparingly, for the wolf is most dangerous when he comes to the kraal a second time secretly."
"Wow! That is my thought also; but men are foolish. If the horn is filled, they would empty it without thought of the morrow. Ohe! you will eat well;" and she issued orders to some women, who returned to the village, and other orders to a couple of boys, who were only too glad to lead the popular white men up to the cave, to light the fires and bring water. And almost as soon as they were at the cave the women arrived with meat, fruit, and milk.
The Hunter stretched himself at once on the blankets. "I am not so young as I was," he explained.
"That won't do," said Venning, lighting the lamp. "You must not go to sleep without having had your supper." He turned the light on. "Why, you're wounded!"
"I dare say, lad. It was pretty hot down there at one time."
"Oh, you know this is not fair to us! I say, Dick, come here."
"What is it?" asked Compton, coming in from attending the fire.
"Mr. Hume has got himself wounded, and he never told us."
"Don't bother about me, lads; I'll be all right in the morning."
But they did bother about him—washed the blood from his face, cleansed and treated a jagged wound on the skull and fomented a swelling on the right wrist, and then insisted on his taking food.
"Now, you go to sleep," said Venning; "and in the morning, perhaps, you'll tell us all about it."
They were very silent, until the Hunter fell into a deep sleep, when they tiptoed out to the fire, and sat long into the night listening to the noisy shouts of rejoicing that floated up from the village below, where the fires gleamed brightly, too anxious themselves to even discuss Mr. Hume's injuries. In the morning, however, when they opened their drowsy eyes, they were gladdened by the sight of the Hunter returning from the bath, with the drops still glistening on his tawny beard.
"Now tell us," they said, when the breakfast was prepared, "all about the fight."
"It is soon told. I let the enemy pass in pursuit of Muata, as arranged, but when it came to our part in the plan—that of closing the defile—we found the job tougher than we anticipated. Those cannibals are hard fighters. They fell back as we unmasked our ambush; but they rallied quickly, and delivered one assault upon another. I tell you, we were at our last gasp when your arrival decided the matter."
"You must have come to close quarters?"
Mr. Hume nodded his head. "I received the blow on the wrist guarding my head from a club, and the cut on the head from a spear."
"And you used your knife?"
"I dare say I did my share," said the Hunter, who had held the defile alone at one time, his staunchest supporter, the Angoni Zulu, having fallen back exhausted.
For a trying spell his undaunted spirit had stood between the valley and destruction, and the wild men went back to Hassan with a tale of a terrible white man who had struck down their bravest with a great blade.
"That Ghoorka knife," he said, "is a great weapon;" and with that summing-up of the struggle in the gloom of the defile he lit his pipe, and sat down to gaze upon the valley, so peaceful in appearance, so charged with the everlasting tragedy of life. "If those people were whites, or Arabs, they would now be following up the enemy to crush him while he is disorganized. But being blacks, they don't look further ahead than their noses, which were made short for the purpose."
"Let us go down and offer to lead an expedition in pursuit," said Compton.
"I guess not, Dick. They'd leave us to do all the fighting ourselves; and there's no sense in that. What we have to think about is how to get away."
"Surely there is no difficulty about that. We will go when it suits us."
"I'm not so sure," said Mr. Hume, gravely.
"But Muata is our friend."
"Muata cannot do what he likes, and, if he could, you've got to remember this—that Muata in the Okapi, dependent on us, is another person to Muata the chief in his own kraal."
"I don't think he would be treacherous," said Venning.
"He need not go so far as that to upset our plans. Maybe he would find it convenient to keep us here as his 'white men' until it suits him to let us go. You see, he has got to think of himself as chief and of his people first."
"I don't think he would treat us unfairly," said Compton, warmly, "especially as they owe so much to us."
"But, sir, these people were kind to my father; and Muata stood by us all along like a brick."
"Well," said Mr. Hume, lighting his pipe, "I always find it pays to keep your powder dry and your eyes skinned. So whether Muata continues friendly or not, be always on your guard."
Muata was friendly. He paid them a visit, and he proclaimed them chiefs with full right to offer council at the Indabas under the title of "The Old Lion," "The Young Lion," and "The Spider," the last distinction falling to Venning, because of his fondness for the pursuit of insects. Muata then dismissed his body-guard and joined his newly appointed chiefs at the fire. He sat a long time silent, his eyes bloodshot, his brows bent, and when he did speak, his words veiled a hidden meaning.
"The place is yours," he said, "to go and to come, to eat and to drink, to take and keep. Choose any place, and the people will build huts for you."
"This cave is dry and comfortable. We want no huts, chief."
"It is well enough now, but in the rains it is not good."
"We shall be well on our way before the rains set in, chief."
"Wow! The Spider has seen how the ants live."
The Spider admitted that he had studied the ways of the ant.
"Good. There are strangers in the house of the ant."
"Oh yes; you mean what are called the 'cows' of the ants."
"Haw! That was the word given them by the white man who was here before. They enter the house of the ant, but out of it never do they pass."
"Is this, then, the house of the ant?" asked Mr. Hume, quietly.
The chief turned to the Hunter an impassive face. "My people can build ye good huts, and there are many places thereunder near running waters, with well-grown gardens. Choose which ye like, my brothers."
"We will examine and select," said Mr. Hume, with assumed unconcern. "And what of Hassan?"
The chief rose. "He will return like the badger to a bee-tree when the bees have quieted down."
"And you wish to keep us to help you drive him from the honey again? Is that it?"
The chief looked down upon the valley. "A child I came here, O great one; a boy I herded goats among the hills; and while yet other boys kept the birds off the grain, I went alone into the darkness of the woods beyond to seek the man-hunters. Now they seek me. Ye have helped in one great fight. All the time Muata has been at war—the hunter and the hunted."
He turned his face again towards them, and there was in it a touch of dignity. He broke into a kind of chant.
"Ye may hear the laughter of the little ones. There are no such at the door of Muata's hut, for a man cannot take unto himself wives and keep his arm strong to cast the spear, his eyes clear to follow the trail, and his heart strong to face the dangers that come out of the forest.
"Ye hear the voice of the young men and maidens singing in the dance. Ye may see the mothers about their work, and the old men at the fire. For them the cloud is past. They sit in the warmth of the sun, and heed not the shadows that gather in the trees. The boy who sits in the tree to frighten the birds from the grain has his turn at the dance. But the chief, he watches always; for Muata there is no rest in the Place of Rest."
"You are the first chief ever I heard take that weight upon his shoulders," said Mr. Hume, with admiration he could not restrain.
"Why don't you resign?" said Compton.
"Let some one else be chief."
Muata's nostrils quivered in disgust. "Wow! I am a chief, and the son of a chief. Who is there to take my place?"
"But you were a long time away."
"Ohe! and, as ye have seen, men conspired to let Hassan and his man- eaters in upon the valley. So my word to you, my brothers, is, to choose ground for huts;" and the chief stalked away.
"I don't envy him his post," said Mr. Hume, looking after him; "but I was right, you see."
"Well, when we want to go we will go," said Compton. "In the mean time we will make the best of these quarters and this valley, which is a good enough place for a holiday. And remember I have to find my father's journal."
Leaving the Hunter at the cave, the Young Lion and the Spider went off on an excursion, and, of course, turned their steps first of all to the gorge, to see the place where the great stand had been made. They were greeted by a small band of warriors, who were squatting on the ledge from which they had fired, and who apparently were on guard. They found themselves on the outer slope of the crater, looking down once more on the interminable reaches of the forest, with just a gleam of water showing at intervals to mark the course of the river up which Hassan's flotilla of canoes had sailed after leaving the wide lagoon. Descending from the ledge to the level of the gorge, they saw the place where the Hunter had made his stand—a little square of rock opening on to the wood path, up which the wild men had rushed to the attack. This path, as they saw, was nothing else than the dry cataract of a river, strewn with boulders, and then they suddenly turned to each other with an exclamation at the thought, "What had become of the river?"
"It's queer!" said Venning. "Where is the water?"
On looking around, they beard for the first time a peculiar subterranean rumbling, and going back a few feet, saw the river disappear in a smooth, green slide down into a wide fissure. They stood looking down, fascinated at this mysterious, silent, and stealthy disappearance of the waters that come with such a sparkle out of the bright valley; then dropped stones down, and stooped their heads in vain to catch even the slightest sound out of the depths. The fissure was about twenty feet wide, with a sloping lip on the near side, and a straight wall on the far or forest side. The slope seemed to carry the water to the left, and with a desire to discover its course, they tugged at a large post which stood against the wall of the gorge and rolled it into the fissure. It whizzed away down into the dark, and nearly dragged Compton after it, for the sleeve of his coat caught on a projecting point, and he was jerked on to his knees, being saved from further danger by the coat tearing.
"Thanks," he said, looking a little white; "I am quite satisfied that the water disappears."
"I rather think," said Venning, "that we have pulled up a gate-post. See, there is one on the other side. A few tree-trunks thrown across would make a fine barricade. Come on back into the valley."
They went back slowly, looking up at the dark walls of the rocky gorge, and Venning stopped.
"See that rock up there?"
"Looks as if it would drop at any moment."
"Remember what Muata said about Hassan drowning out the valley."
"One of his figures of speech."
"S'pose that rock fell; it would just about fill up this passage, river and all. And if it did not quite, a few men working from the ledge, which you see would be behind the dam, could easily fill up the cracks. Then the river could be dammed and the valley flooded."
"They'd have to blast the rock, and the task would be too troublesome."
They returned slowly through the defile, stopping at the place where the warrior had sprung out on Compton, and on reaching the valley, went down among the rustling bananas and among the gardens, where the women stopped their work to shout out merry greetings, and to offer them earth-nuts, wild cherries, sweet cane from the maize patches, and a thick porridge-like beverage made from the red millet. They watched the little pickaninnies basking in the sun, and as they strolled, rejoicing in the brightness and in the beauty of this little island of rest, set within an ocean of trees, they were followed by an admiring company of lads, each carrying his hurling- stick. Coming to a little patch of reeds in the far corner of the valley, the black boys, with shouts, gave chase to a long-tailed finch, clothed in a beautiful waistcoat of orange. The two white chiefs threw aside their dignity, and when, after a breathless chase, the bird, hampered by its streaming tail-feathers, was caught, each chief stuck a feather in his hatband. They worked round the valley, seeing many strange birds and curious insects, back towards the cave, arriving on the ledge at dusk. At once they opened out on Mr. Hume with a description of where they had been and what they had seen.
The Hunter listened patiently, but he was evidently preoccupied.
"We have seen all the valley, sir, and if we do have to stay here longer than we thought, it is a consolation to think that it is a jolly place."
"I have been away myself," said Mr. Hume, "and I made an unpleasant discovery. At first I thought it best to keep it from you, but I know you would not like that."
"The boat has gone!"
"Clean gone; stolen or hidden away. I went down shortly after you had left, found the path by the marks I had made, never saw a living soul or any spoor but our own; and I tell you it was a great shock when I saw at the first glance that the boat was not there."
"I wonder——" began Venning.
"It is no good wondering," said the Hunter, testily. "Muata or his mother has had a hand in this."
"We can soon put that right," said Compton, "by demanding that the boat be produced within a certain time."
"That would mean war," said Mr. Hume. "I had thought of that, and so no doubt has Muata. The odds are in his favour by force of numbers, for he could starve us out in a week. Violence is no use. Our best plan is to remain friendly, but watchful."
"Don't you think," said Venning, thoughtfully, "that we are on the wrong scent? Suppose the boat was stolen by Hassan's men."
"It may be—it may be, lad; and yet, if Hassan's men did find the boat, it seems to me they would have let it alone to disguise the fact of their presence. Anyway, we will make a further search to- morrow."
They had cause now for uneasiness, and the boys for the first time began to entertain suspicions about Muata's faithfulness, for the loss of the Okapi in the very thick of the forest meant to them what marooning is to the sailor man. They sat discussing the matter long into the night, and when morning came they looked out on the valley with other feelings than before. It was to them a prison, lovely still, but changed; and their eyes went to the spot where they had seen the bodies of the men upon whom Muata had fulfilled the law as he understood it, the terrible law of swift vengeance upon any who opposed the will of the chief. There were armed men on their way to the gorge from the village, and very soon, before the dew had dried on the grass, and while the morning clouds hung white on the hilltops, the chief himself came up with his headmen. And the reason of his coming was none else than to make Mr. Hume vice-chief, with full power, in his absence, over life and property in the valley; for, said he, "I go upon the trail myself, and who should have authority when I am gone but you, my friend?"
The headmen expressed themselves delighted.
"But," said the Hunter, troubled by this upset of his theory that Muata would think only of himself, "our boat has been taken."
"The water there is taboo," said Muata, without showing any surprise. "No one would go there but that one who may go. If the boat is gone it will be returned at the appointed time. See, my friend, I give you my seat under the council tree; have you also trust in Muata, the lone hunter."
"Do you go alone?"
"Ay, alone with the silent one—he of the four legs;" and a faint smile lit up the chiefs sombre and stern countenance, as he glanced at the jackal now reappearing after good eating.
Mr. Hume went aside with Muata to dissuade him from his purpose, but the chief was determined, having in his mind a plan to destroy Hassan's canoes, as he had learnt from his spies that the Arab was arranging for another attack. So while the Hunter went down to be formally received by the clan, the two sub-chiefs, the Young Lion, and the Spider, went off on a reconnaissance of their own to the water that was "taboo," to all but one, as Muata had hinted. They picked up the trail from the marks that Mr. Hume had renewed on his last trip, and arrived on the banks of the unruffled pool. By contrast with the open valley bathed in sunshine, this sheet of water at the foot of the perpendicular cliffs was gloomy and creepy. There was, too, a mystery about it, for it had no visible source. There was no ripple on its smooth surface, no trace of a current, except in the centre, where, from time to time, bubbles appeared and disappeared, leaving just a trace of foam. They tossed pebbles in to judge the depth from the sound which ranged from the "splash" of the shallows to the gurgling "plop" of the deeps, and followed the pebbles with rocks, till at last the sluggish pool was stirred and furrowed with waves. And in the very midst of their sport a black hand appeared above the waters, and with a heavy roll the body itself floated before them, dead and stark.
The boys stood with their hands arrested, staring at this startling apparition.
Slowly it drifted away, the strong white teeth set in a grin, a dark oily stain trailing from numerous wounds on the body and limbs.
"It's a cannibal," said Compton, in a whisper.
"How did he come to be here?" muttered Venning, with a fearful glance around.
They stepped back to the shelter of a tree, and listened, for if one cannibal had found his way to the pool, it was pretty certain that others had. But there was no sound down in those shaded depths. The little waves on the pool quieted down, the surface recovered its glassy smoothness, the bubbles reappeared in the centre, and broke with a faint noise audible yet in the stillness. The pool had yielded up one of its secrets, and the poor body was now come to the end of its voyage, anchored apparently against a log of wood which had grounded against the bank.
"We can't leave it there!"
But the sudden, unexpected, ghastly upheaval from the deep of that stark body had naturally badly shaken them, and they stood where they were in nervous expectation of some other horror. If this place was "taboo" except to one yet unknown to them, it might be that solitary priest or priestess of the pool was now watching them, even if there were no other cannibals near at hand. So they lingered yet a little longer behind their tree, advancing a foot again and again, only to withdraw it at some fancied noise.
At last Compton stepped out with his carbine at the ready, stood on the shore a moment then went on till he was opposite the dead man. There Vending joined him.
There was a movement in the water among some reeds, then a ripple like that made by a heavy fish, and the body, leaving its moorings, went slowly away.
"Crocodile," muttered Venning, whose nerves had never quite recovered the shock caused the night the lion charged.
Compton frowned and shook his head.
The dark body went straight on, stopped a spell at a cluster of reeds, then moved on across, moved by some volition not its own, and not due to the current.
"It's very queer, Venning."
Compton's glance came back from the gruesome spectacle to the log, and with a start of surprise he stooped down to pick up something.
As he did so, Venning, with a yell of terror, gripped him by the shoulder. Looking up and across, Compton saw the dead man stand erect in the water, his head and shoulders above the surface, and his face towards them! He felt the moisture break out on his brow when the horrid thing began to advance without movement of its own.
Venning pointed a finger across. "It's coming," he gasped, turned and ran; and Compton felt no shame in running after.
They flew from the dark pool and its nameless horror; but when from the height they paused breathless and gasping to look down, there was no stain, or blot, or ripple on its calm face.
"Ugh!" said Compton, "it looks what it is—' Deadman's Pool.'"
Venning shuddered, turned his back upon the sheer drop with the still water at its bottom, and did not stop again until he had the peaceful valley at his feet, when he took off his hat.
"Thank goodness, we came out with our wits whole."
"It was a trick," muttered Compton, abstractedly.
"But who could play a trick like that?" asked Venning, in trembling excitement. "No human being!"
Compton put his hand on the other's shoulder. "We've both had a rare fright, old man, but neither you nor I will let a thing like that upset our appetite. Mr. Hume promised us a treat in green mealies for tea, and I smell some strange dish."
"Hulloa, lads, I was just thinking of starting out after you. Seen anything?"
"We've had a scare," said Compton, lightly, with a meaning look at Mr. Hume; but already the observant eyes of the Hunter had seen that Venning was upset.
"All right; just try this roast mealie;" and the strong hand steadied the boy to his seat.
Mr. Hume talked, while they ate, about the ceremony of his initiation as vice-chief and of the long, wordy arguments he had listened to in a case at law concerning the ownership of a monkey, to which there were two claimants, the boy who had caught it, and the man who owned the garden where it had been caught.
"Now," he said, when they had eaten, "you have something to tell me. Go ahead."
They related the incident, which lost nothing of its repulsiveness by the relation:
"And you saw no one."
"No one alive, but I believe there was trickery. There must have been," said Compton, with knit brows.
"I think so too, but the trick was horrible enough to produce the effect desired. I must say I felt a creepy sensation when I was down there yesterday."
"But we saw no one," said Venning, with a shudder.
"By Jove! I forgot this;" and Compton produced a fragment of cloth. "I took that from a post in the pool."
"A bit of rag," said the Hunter.
"Yes; but a bit torn out of my sleeve yesterday over there in the defile."
Venning snatched at it. "I have it," he shouted.
"I see you have; but you need not yell."
"The blind river! It comes out under the pool!"
"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Hume.
"Why, sir, we dropped a tree stump into the opening which swallows the river over there. As it slipped from our hands, it caught Dick's sleeve, tearing out the bit of cloth, and nearly taking him down too."
"Well, what then?"
"Why, the stump turns up in the pool a thousand feet below, and so must the river! You see, after entering the fissure, it twists back underground, to emerge down there at the bottom of the cliff."
"Of course," said Compton, eagerly; "and that body must have followed the same course."
"That accounts for the appearance of the pool and of the dead man, but it does not explain the trickery."
"Perhaps it does," said Venning, who, now that he saw a cause for things, recovered his nerve and his spirit. "There is a subterranean passage. The formation here is volcanic. The valley is an extinct crater, the hills are the walls. Well, in volcanic formations, there are usually enormous caverns. Now, then, how do we know that the Okapi has not been taken into one of those caverns opening on to the pool?"
"Good; go on to the trickery."
"The person who hid the boat, if it is hidden, would probably be on the watch to scare off any who tried to find out what had become of it. Well, then, if we admit that, it is easy to admit the rest— that a good swimmer could play the trick played on us."
"Let me find him," said Compton, angrily.
"Yes—yes," muttered Mr. Hume; "there's a lot in that, and we'll follow it up, but not without a good plan."
He filled his pipe, and stared into the fire for some time.
"Clearly," he said, "what we should do first is to find out if any one leaves the valley for the pool. As far as we know, there is the gorge up which we came, but there may be openings direct from the valley into the underground passages. We will leave the pool alone, as if we had had enough of it, and examine the interior cliffs."
THE MAKER OF LAWS
The discovery made as to the source of Deadman's Pool gave a new interest to the valley, and the boys played the role of detectives under an arrangement to report the results of their investigations at night. Each spent a day of careful observation, and at the camp- fire each wore a look of preoccupation.
They nodded their heads.
"I met the chief's mother at the council tree," said Mr. Hume, "and she said she would pay us a visit in the morning. She has been ill, or she would have come before."
"Well," said Venning, "I met a boy five minutes after I left the cave, and he stuck to me like a leech."
"One followed me also," muttered Compton.
"Seems to me we are under police inspection."
"Yes; there were boys everywhere."
"Anyway, I found a 'splash' beetle."
"A beetle that has developed the protective instinct till it looks like a splash of white on a rock. Here it is;" and Venning displayed his find.
"Doesn't help us much."
"No; but when I took it off the rock I could hear a faint rumbling from below, over here to the left, between our gorge and the canon where the river disappears."
"Come, that's something."
"Yes; but as far as I could make out, there was not an opening in the cliff on that side big enough to hold a swallow's nest."
"Better luck to-morrow. Now, lads, if that old woman puts any leading questions about the pool, don't give yourselves away."
But when the chief's mother came up the next day, she never breathed a word about the pool. She talked of the "good white man" who had lived in the cave when Muata was a boy.
"Often have I sat here and talked with him, and well do I remember his teaching."
"Let us hear, mother," said Compton.
"He taught us how to till the land, so that it would produce other crops than manioc. The men he showed how to win iron from the rock, and how to forge the spear-heads and the hoes for the tilling. Medicine he made from the leaves and the juices of the trees, and he bade the women keep clean the huts and the place around the village. But the thing he said most was that living here in peace, in a place set aside for the weak, it was well we saw that no strangers who came in should ever leave. For, said he, the strong will take from the weak."
"This is a small place," said Venning—"too small for any people to fight over."
"I thought I heard the sound of battle in the valley but two days since."
"It might serve Hassan as a robber's den; but I spoke of other people—white men, mother."
"Since I had ears to hear the meaning of words," she said, "the talk was ever of white men, and one 'white man' warned us against those very men who eat up the land and the waters."
"But what use would this little spot be to them? In a short time it will be too small for your own people."
"When that day comes, O Spider, we would be free to go to the land of my fathers, where my son will find his kraal."
"You will want many canoes, mother, when that day comes."
"And they tell me," said the woman, with a keen glance, "that you white men are good boat-builders. Aye, I have seen your boats on the great river, with wings and with fire."
"Our boat—the one you sat in—the boat down in the pool, has wings," said Venning, innocently.
"Muata the chief tells me the boat has gone. Wow! The place is taboo; I knew the spirit people would take it; but you can build others."
"We have no tools."
"Wow! You could make them."
"We have no skill in such work."
The wise woman pondered. "He, the white man who lived here, consulted a familiar he carried much with him; he would find from it how to build boats and to forge iron."
Compton produced his log-book. "See, mother, was it like that?"
"Wow! It was like."
"Bring me the 'familiar' of the white man, for he was my father, as you know, and you will hear his voice again. Maybe we will learn from it how to make tools for the building of boats."
"I will search, O son of my white man."
She sat awhile, then produced a cob-pipe, and, after getting a fill of tobacco, went off smoking with the bowl against her cheek.
"Humph!" said Venning. "Wants to keep us as boat-builders. I bet she's taken the Okapi as the first of the fleet for the great exodus."
"And intends that we should be the navigators as well as the builders."
Mr. Hume was of the same opinion when he joined them later on and was in possession of the wise woman's remarks.
"She is the power behind the throne," he said musingly, "and I have been wondering for some time what was her object. Now I see. I have been giving my consent as chief to laws which are framed evidently to keep us here."
"Been doing nothing else. There was a law making it a crime for any man to leave the valley without the consent of the people. Another law calling on all—men as well as women—to work for the good of the clan. Another making it a crime to withhold knowledge that would be for the general good. There was another declaring that the vice- chief must have at least two wives."
"But you have not one wife."
"That is easily remedied," said the Hunter, with a groan.
"What do you mean, sir?"
"See that?" and Mr. Hume pointed at a spot in the valley where many women were at work.
"They are building a hut," said Venning.
"My hut!" Mr. Hume filled his pipe with great deliberation, took a coal from the fire, and stared at his two companions till his hand was scorched. "I am to be married at the full moon!"
"You can't mean it, sir," said Compton.
"It's true enough," said the Hunter, solemnly. "I was passing the acts, as it were, without paying much attention when the women clapped their hands. 'What was that last law?' I said to the chief councillor, whose duty it is to keep the laws in his mind. 'The great chief,' he said, 'will take to himself two wives at the full moon.' 'I repeal that act,' I said; but they would not understand. A law was a law when it became a law, and no one could alter it, but considering my position they would build my hut for me. And, as you see, they are building it."
He stared gloomily down into the valley; while Venning and Compton made singular grimaces in the effort to keep becomingly grave.
"It is a great honour," said Compton, presently.
"And two of them!" said Venning. "I don't know, I'm sure. I'm no lawyer, but I rather think that you, as an Englishman, would not be allowed to take two. Polygamy would become bigamy."
"I never thought of that," said the Hunter, brightening up.
"On the other hand," went on Venning, with a judicial air, "as you have been sworn in as a member of the clan, you become of course amenable to the laws, and it may be that two wives will not meet the requirements of your exalted rank."
Mr. Hume leant forward, and caught Venning by the ear.
"It is no joking matter," he went on. "When will the moon be at the full?"
"In three weeks from to-day," said Compton, grinning.
"Then before that we must be well away, or we may find ourselves life prisoners. Have you made any discovery to-day?"
"None! We were 'shadowed,' as before, by boys."
"So. Well, I will take measures to-morrow to put an end to this spying. They have had their fun out of me as chief, but I will have my turn."
Next day the vice-chief had his turn. He declared the next three days to be a period of work. Some of the men were to build a boom across the river in the defile, others were to construct a stone wall across the gorge leading from the Deadman's Pool; while he started the women and children on a new set of huts, having condemned the old village as unfit for habitation. Further, he passed a law that any man, woman, or child found wandering about idle during the three days, would have to pass a night on the banks of the "tabooed" pool tied to a tree; and, finally, he appointed himself and the two sub-chiefs, the Young Lion and the Spider, as overseers, with right to appoint substitutes in their place.
"Those be the new laws," he said, in a roar, when the astounded council had listened to the end. "If any one disputes them, I will tie them head to heels and throw them into the river to learn wisdom."
No one so much as murmured, for they did not like the look of those yellow eyes.
"Then see that ye begin your appointed work at sunrise," he said, "for I will make medicine to see these laws are obeyed."
Then he returned to the ledge, and spent the afternoon with the two boys making rockets, using stout reeds as cases. In the dark these were fired off with great and awe-inspiring' effect on the villagers, who scuttled into their huts, and remained hid for the rest of the night, convinced that the "strong medicine" would indeed find them out if they did not obey this strange new law.
"I think I have fixed them for a time," said the Hunter, grimly, as he described his new feat as a lawmaker. "For three days we should have liberty to fully inspect the side of the valley above the pool."
In the morning, at sunrise, the entire clan started out promptly to their allotted tasks, and Mr. Hume inspected each gang. The women and children went to the far end of the valley, where the reeds grew, and the wise woman was appointed inspector.
"What is this new law, O great one?" she asked quietly, having been much subdued by the fiery rockets.
"You made the law, mother, that all should work, and I have honoured it. See that you honour it also."
"Yebo, great one. We women do not complain. It is a joy to us to see the men work also. Maybe in time," she added significantly, "the great one will do his turn also."
"Each in his turn, mother."
He went on up to the gorge, where Venning was on duty, remained a few minutes inspecting the work of wall-building, which should have been done before for defence, then appointed one of the headmen as overseer, and went on with Venning to the river outlet, where Compton was in charge. An overseer was appointed there, and Compton went on a tour of inspection from gang to gang, while the other two made a close investigation of the cliff for an entrance to the caves. The two following days they each in turn acted as general inspector of the works, while the two disengaged made a close inspection of the cliff; but at the end of the third day they had no success to report.
"The only thing to do now," said Mr. Hume, "is to visit the pool, and make a close examination of the walls."
"We could not examine the wall without swimming in the pool," said Venning, "and before I do that I am prepared to stay here a very long time."
"I cannot say I relish the idea myself, but I see no other way out of the mess. We must have the Okapi before the full moon. I will take a look at the pool alone to-morrow."
THE SECRET WAY
But when day dawned the vice-chief was summoned to hear a message from Muata, who had reported that Hassan had discovered the dark river leading up to the tabooed pool, and was sending up a strong fleet of canoes, while still more canoes were gathering on the other river by which he had made his first attack. His orders were that a body of picked men were to join him to take part in an attack on the first body of the enemy. Mr. Hume was fully occupied in carrying out these instructions, but on the chiefs mother suggesting that the chosen band should be accompanied by the Young Lion, he emphatically declined to allow this.
"As you wish to keep us here," he said, "we will stay here; and, take notice, we have already seen what was in the mind of the chief by taking steps to protect the entrance above the tabooed water."
The chiefs mother desisted, but she went up to interview the two young chiefs.
"The great one," she said, "has very strong medicine?"
Compton nodded his head gravely.
"He was consulting with the spirits in the night when he sent forth those fire-devils?"
"Wow! And the spirits told him to build a wall across the entrance, and to make a fence across the river?"
"That was wisely done, as you see, mother."
"Haw! Tell me why the spirits told him to move the village to a place which is further from this cave;" and she looked through narrowed eyes.
"Ohe!" said Venning, "that was also wise. The old village stood on low ground, the new village is on high ground."
"And a tall man sees over the head of a small one," she answered, with a scornful laugh.
"Wait, mother of wisdom. If the enemy secured the gates and flooded the valley, which would be safer—the village on low ground, or the village on a hill?"
"Yoh! It is strong medicine." She sat looking at them for some time in silence. "It is only the great one who can make medicine?"
Compton looked thoughtful.
"Come," she said, in a wheedling tone, touching him with a finger, "make medicine for one who carried food to the good white man."
"What would you like to know, mother?"
"Tell me, O son of him who taught us—tell me, O lion's cub—tell me if the chief will find his own kraal."
"That would need strong medicine—very strong."
"Only a little. Consider; it was these hands who carried the good white man water and wood. Only a little word, his son."
"A little word, mother; but it requires much thought, and how can a son make medicine without his father's 'familiar'—the thing he consulted, the thing you promised to bring to me?"
"I will fetch it," said the woman, rising. "In the morning you shall have it;" and she went in the direction of the gorge.
"Seems to me, Dick, the old lady is at the bottom of this mystery. You'd better be very careful how you deal with her."
"I want to get my father's book," said Compton.
"Of course you do; but you want to get back the Okapi as well, and if you offend her it may turn out more awkward for us."
"Well, then, suppose we follow her now?" and Compton, always ready to act, jumped up.
"What's the good? Remember how she spotted Mr. Hume the day he 'blazed' the trees. Believe she's got eyes in the back of her head. No; but I learnt a trick from a keeper in dear old Surrey that will do what we want."
In the dusk Venning put the trick into effect with the help of his companions. It was simple enough. He drew fine linen threads from a handkerchief, stained them black and stretched them across the track down the gorge at five different intervals, and at the height of a few inches from the ground.
In the morning, at sunrise, the chief's mother was at the cave. Seeing Mr. Hume, she promptly begged a pipe of tobacco, and sitting down, expounded at great length the laws of the clan, together with those which had been passed during the past few days.
"The chief's hut," she said, "will be ready at the round of the moon, and the people look forward to much feasting."
"They had better be preparing to meet Hassan and his wolves, lest they themselves be food for the pot."
She snapped her fingers. "Hassan will die within the gates, and his wolves will perish in the uttermost depths."
"What depths are they?"
She laughed, and, with a glance at Compton, went off down towards the village, bearing on her head a square-shaped package.
"Your book, Compton! Better follow her. Evidently she wants to speak to you alone, Keep her engaged while Venning and I go back on her trail."
Compton overtook her below the ledge, where, as if expecting his coming, she was waiting; and while they were engaged, the others went off on the trail.
"Hurrah!" said Venning, pointing to the ground as they turned into the gorge; "the first string is broken. She came out this way."
They went on, keen as hounds on the scent, and both pointed to the snapped ends of the second string. Passing over the stone wall just built which here crossed the defile, they came to the third cotton— broken also. The fourth was, however, intact, and so was the fifth.
"Thank goodness!" muttered Venning.
"Bad luck, you mean."
"No, sir; good luck. I was beginning to think that she had gone right on down to that dismal pool."
They went back to the broken strand, and Mr. Hume brought the broken ends together. "Just hold them in position." He climbed on the wall, and, with the gorge opening away between the enclosing cliffs, he took his line from the spot where Venning kept his fingers on the broken ends.
"Good," he said, returning. "The cotton was broken at a point two or three yards out of the straight track. She must have gone towards the wall on our right."
Venning's eyes went to the cliff; but the Hunter examined the ground, and expressed his satisfaction at what he saw in a low chuckle.
"What do you see?" asked Venning, breathlessly, glancing quickly at Mr. Hume's face, and back at the wall of rock.
"I should like Muata to be here. It is a good point."
"A woman's skirt on the dew, lad. See, a man would pass through those two rocks there and leave no mark; but a woman, with the swing of her skirt, wipes a spread of dew off on either side. You can see the dark smudge in the glister of the dewdrops."
"I see," said Venning, starting forward towards two rocks with a passage between.
"Steady, lad. Follow me."
He went forward to the rocks, which were almost under the right wall, and inch by inch examined the stony ground.
"The direction should be there," he said, pointing ahead; "but there's nothing but a dead wall."
They ranged up and down in a fruitless attempt to pick up the lost spoor, and came back to the two rocks.
"Maybe she did not pass this way, sir."
"A sign is a sign, and a spoor a spoor. She passed between these rocks this morning."
"Then she must have come down the wall;" and Venning, stepping forward, placed his hand on the rock. He started back and stared up at the rock. Then he touched it again, with a curious look in his face, and next placed his ear against it. "Come here, sir."
Mr. Home went forward, and, placing his hand on the rock, felt it vibrating. Then he placed his ear to the rock.
"What do you hear?" asked Venning.
"A noise like the roar of the sea."
"Or the rush of a great body of water."
"Seek ye the honey-bee, O Spider."
They whipped round at the mocking voice, and saw the Inkosikase standing a few feet off, having come upon them with great quietness.
"Where is the young chief?" asked Mr. Hume at once.
"Be not afraid, great one. He sits over the 'familiar' of his father, learning wisdom and strong medicine. And is your medicine at fault, great one, that you should set snares in the path for a woman, as boys do for the coneys?"
She laughed, and the great one caught hold of his beard, as he eyed her, wondering whether the time had come to make her speak.
"Is it honey ye seek, O Spider, young chief who watches always?"
"It is honey, mother." Venning tapped the rock. "Ye may hear the bees humming within. We would enter the hive."
She laughed again. "Ohe! ye are too wise for me, ye two. If I did not show you the way, I see ye would find it."
She stepped past them, walked a few paces, then, with one hand upreaching to a knob of rock, and a naked toe in a notch, she climbed up the height of a man, stepped to a ledge, and held a hand down to Venning. A few steps along the ledge, when they stood by her side, brought them to a depression in the cliff. Removing a few stones, she said with a look of sadness—
"Behold the depth that was my secret, and is now yours."
A gush of moist air came out of the dark opening, bringing with if the sound of hoarse mutterings. Now they had found the opening, they did not know what to do, far; it was not inviting, and they stood looking at it warily:
"You would have me enter first," she said quietly. "Come, then, for it is not all dark within."
She disappeared, and Mr. Hume followed next, with a whisper to Venning that they must not let her get out of sight. A little way they passed along a narrow passage, facing a rushing current of moist air, and then stepped out into a cavern dimly lit by a shaft of light that crept through the roof. The woman crossed the floor, and they followed her down another passage, into another cavern larger than the first. This, too, was dimly lit, and as they stood with a feeling of mystery and uncertainty that comes to men when they quit the surface bathed in light fop the-dark underground, they felt the floor vibrate under their feet, and heard, as if the source of the uproar were near at hand, a great booming with a shrill note at intervals.
"Would ye enter further?" asked the woman.
"Have ye entered further, mother?"
"Yebo, 'Ngonyama (lion)."
"Then lead on."
"Listen, Ngonyama; listen, Indhlovu (elephant). There is a path for the lion in the veld, and another for the elephant in the forest; but this path is only for those who know it, and are welcome to those who made it. The sun shines without. It were better if Ngonyama and the Spider blinked their eyes in the light Mid the warmth."
"If ye have trodden the way, so will we. Lead on."
"Ye lose your wisdom, great one; but see, I go;" and she went from the cave into a vaulted passage, in which they encountered the blast laden with moisture, that made the walls slimy and the floor a series of puddles.
The way was dark, and they splashed and stumbled in growing discomfort in the footsteps of the leader, who kept on at a quick walk, showing a thorough familiarity with the passage. Sometimes, as they could tell from the sound, the roof of the passage extended to great heights; at others it closed in till they had to stoop their heads. But their guide kept on without a pause, and presently, to their great relief, they saw ahead a faint reflection of the light upon a wet slab of rock. Hurrying on, they emerged from the passage into a vast chamber, across which, though there was light enough to distinguish each other, they could not see. Mr. Hume took a step forward, with his face turned up, in an effort to see the roof through the films of vapour that floated overhead.
"Stop, Ngonyama—see to your footing;" and the woman's hand restrained him.
He started back involuntarily, for at his feet there was a yawning abyss, out of which came the sound of rushing waters, and the curling wraiths of vapours, but so deep and so dark that the eye could detect no gleam of the flood beneath.
"Ohe! Ngonyama, remember I stood between you and death that time."
She moved away to the right, and they followed, going on a ledge which skirted the yawning abyss.
It was a perilous passage, and both of them would have been glad to turn back after they had gone a few steps, if the woman had suggested it. A feeling of vertigo seized them, so that they had to stop, leaning away from them for fear of falling over out of sheer dizziness. When they did move again, they groped for a footing with a complete feeling of helplessness, expecting every moment to slip on the slimy rock, and the further they advanced the worse they felt, for it would be as bad to turn back as go on. Looking back, Mr. Hume at one pause saw a little splatter of flame. Venning had groped for a match and struck a light; but before he could see anything by its reflection, Mr. Hume blew it out, and placed his heavy hand on the boy's shoulders to steady him.
"Worst thing you could do," he said.
"It's so dark," muttered the boy.
"Dark enough, but she's gone ahead safely enough."
They stood for some time, and seemed to gather comfort from the touch of each other's hands.
"I am ready now," said Venning.
"That's good. Keep your eyes raised and your shoulder to the wall. Forward!"
They crept rather than walked round that fearful gallery, traversing the unknown height with the roar of waters coming up from the unseen depth, and the silent wraiths of vapour making the darkness visible as they curled upwards to disappear into the vast vault.
"If I can only get safe out of this," thought Venning at each step, "I will never try to leave the valley again by this way."
The valley was only a few hundred yards away, but it seemed to him that he must have left it ages ago. Every second had been charged with a new sensation since he left the brightness outside, and each slow, wary, suspicious movement he made had in it a whole sequence of fears. Would he slip? "Would his foot fall on firm rock? Would something—he knew not what—grab him from out that awful pit? Would some one or something—he was sure there was something creeping behind—would it spring on him? Would that woman's hand suddenly shoot out from some crevice and hurl the both of them headlong? Was it never coming to an end? And the rock was shaking worse than ever! It would be easier to crawl! Of course it would. He went down on his hands and knees and laughed, because it was so easy. There was something on his back, something that jogged about and hit him on the side of the head, that gripped him round the chest! What was it? He felt gingerly, and laughed again. His carbine! What was the use of a carbine there? No good, of course. What a joke to throw it down and hear the splash, or, better, to fire it off and hear the echoes!
The boy chuckled as he sat on the ledge tugging at the buckle.
The great hands closed on the boy, lifted him up, and bore him lightly as the man felt his way with his feet. He counted his steps, assuring himself that before he came to seventy-five they would be at the end.
"Ngonyama!" cried a voice, quite close.
"We are coming, mother."
"Ngonyama! Ngonyama! Ngonyama!" and the voice grew fainter.
"Wait—wait, O mother of chiefs, for the way is dark, and we move slow."
"Slower fast, slower fast, Ngonyama, it matters not."
"It is far, mother! Are we near the end?"
"Near the end—very near! Is it the dead ye carry, Ngonyama?"
"Nay, mother; the boy is but sick. But where are you, that ye see and are not seen, that your voice is near and yet far?"
The woman laughed. "So ye grow afraid, O great one? Said I not, Indhlovu, that this was not your path? Death is around."
Mr. Hume went forward steadily, counting his paces to keep his mind from wandering, and to his great joy he came suddenly on an opening in the wall which led towards welcome light, away from the horrors of that unfathomable pit. The woman waited for him there, looking very tall against the light.
"The boy is sick, mother—a little water."
"It is water now. Outside it was the honey he asked for. Set him down, Ngonyama—the child is weakly; set him down, and see to yourself."
"What words we these, woman?"
"Woman, yes; but master here, Ngonyama; and my words are easy to understand. Let the child be, and I will bring you out of this."
"Bring me water," he said sternly.
"There is plenty beyond. Carry him to the water if ye will, but the water will have you both." She laughed shrilly.
Mr. Hume went on towards the light, and found himself in another cavern reaching far up to a roof, from which hung long stalactites glistening white. There was light enough reflected from these hanging pillars to see, and he looked anxiously into Venning's face. The boy's eyes were closed.
"Water," he said.
"Ohe! there is water beyond;" and she pointed ahead.
Again he went on without a thought about the marvels that disclosed themselves in the cave in the shapes of crystals and cones of sulphuric origin; but, as he advanced, he was aware of strange, intermittent sounds resembling explosions. Pushing on, he saw the white spray of falling water, then the gleam of wet rock, and stopped at the edge of a cataract, milk white from the churned foam. He soaked a handkerchief in the water and bathed the boy's face.
The woman was at his side. "Leave him; he belongs to the water. Leave him and follow, lest ye also go down."
"He Is only weak, mother. In a little time he will be ready to follow."
He applied himself to the task of bringing the boy round, and when he looked up again the woman had gone. Then for the first time he glanced around him, and saw that he stood in a small cave opening into a noble vault, lit up from top to bottom by a broad fan of light that streamed through a fissure in the roof. Opposite to where he stood, and a little above, the river emerged from its subterranean passage in a long green slide, to break into white where it fell upon the rocks before its headlong rush at his feet. In the rock above the point where the river emerged there were several round holes, and at intervals of a few seconds, columns of water spurted through these with loud reports. They shot far out, then broke into fine spray, on which the light produced wonderful colour effects. He could scarcely take his eyes off these blow- holes, so strange, so fascinating was the sight, and it was only the faint sound of a sigh that called his attention to his patient.
A VOICE FROM THE DEAD
Compton had found his father's book. When the woman gave it to him he sat down for an hour turning over the leaves, closely filled with neatly written handwriting interspersed with many sketches. To him it was a message from the dead—a priceless treasure; and as he read and saw how valuable it was as a record of close and intelligent observation in a new field, he was seized with an eagerness to be off with it out of the wilderness. He hurried to the cave, but, of course, there was no one there. Then, still carrying the priceless book, he ran on to the gorge, where the warriors whose task it was to guard that part were gathering. Some of them were examining the broken lengths of cotton, and drew his attention to them.
"It is medicine," he said briefly. "Have ye seen Ngonyama?"
They had not seen him since in the early morning one had noticed the great chief and the Spider enter the gorge.
"And it is not meet," they added, "that we should seek to find out where the chiefs had gone, since the place below was taboo."
"It is well," said Compton; and he returned to the cave to wait with as much patience as he could summon, under the impression that his friends had, of course, gone down to the pool in search of the missing boat.
The afternoon, however, passed quickly, for he was poring over the Journal, and it was almost dark when a step without attracted his attention.
"I say," he shouted, "come and see."
But it was not Venning who entered, but the chiefs mother. She looked tired, and her short skirt was stained with mud and moss.
"Halloa, it's you, is it?"
She squatted before the fire with her eyes on the book. "Ye will make medicine now, son of the wise man. Ye will teach our men how to build swift boats, and how to make the 'fire that kills."
"You are wet; you have been in the water."
"Oh! it is a little thing."
"I thought you were the great one, or the Spider. I have not seen them since the morning."
"Maybe they have gone a journey. What says the medicine?"
"It says that until they return safe as when they went, it will not speak," said Compton, with a chill suspicion growing in his mind.
She laughed. "Look again, son of my friend. Maybe they will not return except the things be done that must be done."
"I have said. The things that will make our people strong for the going out—the swift canoes and the shooting fire. That is my word."
"And this is my word. If any injury befall them, the medicine that is here"—and he tapped the book—"will work against yon and yours."
He looked at her very sternly, attempting to carry the matter with a high hand, for he judged from her words that something had happened to his friends.
"Wow! Are my people so few that a boy can talk to me in this way?" She snapped her fingers.
"And what stand would you and your people have made against the wild men but for Ngonyama? What will they do when Hassan comes again, if the great one is not at hand to help?"
"Ohe! Little chief," she laughed, "you cannot frighten me with tales of Hassan; and think well over my word."
She went away down towards the new village that had been built beyond the river, and her voice rose in a chant as she went—a chant that was taken up and thrown back by the women returning home from the gardens. Compton built up the fire, and then walked up to the mouth of the gorge, restless and consumed with anxiety. Those words of the woman, "maybe they will not return," haunted him. They seemed to him ominous of danger. All night he patrolled up and down the ledge, between the cave and the gorge, fearing they would not come, and yet expecting to hear their voices at any moment; and in the morning he was heavy-eyed from want of sleep. The night-guards from the gorge trotted by, their places having been relieved.
"Have ye seen Ngonyama and the Spider?"
"There is smoke," they said. "Maybe the white chiefs make the fire."
"Beyond the water that is taboo."
He hurried off with his glasses, and from the gorge saw smoke rising far down the forest; and the sight gave him hope, for it might mean that his friends had followed the river down from Deadman's Pool on the trail of the missing boat. Bidding the men keep a good watch, and report any new development to him at once, he went back to the eave to breakfast and to renewed study of the journal. As he read, his attention became riveted on a series of sketches which laid bare the subterranean passages under the south-west portion of the cliff, between the gorge and the canon giving outlet to the river. As he read, too absorbed to think of anything else, he came upon the following note:—
"If it chance that understanding eye should fall on these notes, let my directions be carefully observed. No stranger—certainly no white man—would be permitted to leave the valley once he discovered its existence, by setting foot within its encircling cliffs. Let him not try to escape by the gorge on the south, for though apparently undefended, it is really guarded by a band of women who have the right to kill any person—not taboo—who passes through. These women, victims of a dark and degrading superstition, are recruited from the village, and once they quit the valley they are never seen, for they live about the shores of the pool beneath the cliff and in caverns adjoining, which form the lower or basement rooms of a series of stupendous vaults produced by volcanic agency. By night they prowl about the slopes above the pool; by day, some of them keep watch over the passage through the gorge and through the canon from loopholes to which they have access from the lower vaults. I know, because I myself tried to escape by this passage, and only escaped owing to the vigilance of the chief woman in the valley, who exercises control over the band, and who had her own purpose to achieve in saving my life. I was useful to her. When ultimately, after much labour, I discovered the only safe way out, I was, owing to repeated attacks of fever, too weak to avail myself of the discovery. My hope is that my efforts may be of service to some one —if, unhappily, any should follow in my footsteps—who would be better prepared to face the dangers and the difficulties of the forest beyond. Listen, then, to these instructions; On the ledge skirting the south cliff, and leading up to the gorge, there is a cave, which may be recognized from the existence near it of a bath hewn out of the lava by human hands. That cave is the key to the underground passage."
Compton looked up with shilling eyes. "The very place I am in," he muttered.
"For many months it was my home—if I may so misuse a word so charged with bitterness to me. Not a day passed but my thoughts went in sickness of spirit to my home, to my wife and little one; and it was when I was thinking of them that I thought I heard them calling my name from the cave. A sick man's fancy! But there had been a sound, and on entering to the far end of the cavern, I heard it repeated—a faint droning, such as would be produced by a shell held to the ear. There was, too, a current of air, and, feeling in the darkness, I found the crack through which it emerged. With a spear- head I easily broke the rock away, for it was a mere envelope. Thrusting the spear in, I felt there was an opening beyond. When I had satisfied myself that the passage extended for some distance, my first precaution was to find a slab of rock to fit the opening I had made."
Compton laid down the book, looked out to see that no one was near, and crept to the far end of the cave. Pressing with his hand, he soon found the rock yield. Satisfied, he returned to the journal with renewed eagerness.
"My first careful examination of the passage disclosed the welcome fact that it extended a great distance in a westerly direction, but without lights I saw it would be dangerous to attempt a thorough investigation. Accordingly, I occupied myself for several days in making a supply of candles, using the barrels of my gun as a mould, and mixing beeswax with oil clarified from the fat of animals, such as monkeys and coneys. Provided with two such candles, I began my explorations underground, and after many failures discovered a way of escape, which others may benefit by. The passage, in an uninterrupted course, dips under the gorge and enters the south-west cliff, which is completely honeycombed. After dipping under the gorge, it branches in several directions, but care must be taken to follow the extreme right-hand passage. This follows the outer shell, skirts what I have called the Hall of Winds, dips down through a long tunnel, and emerges on the outer slope at a point near the spot where the river disappears. The passage is safe, but can only be taken provided a candle or torch is used. If these directions should come under the notice of some unhappy traveller, let him accept my earnest wishes for success in his efforts to escape from a place which to me was first a haven of rest and then a hateful prison, and there is a feeling I have that I have not written this in vain."
The son of the lonely Englishman who had written the foregoing in sadness of spirit, but in hope for others, sat long staring before him with a lump in his throat.
"Not in vain, my father—not in vain did you labour," he murmured. Again he read over the directions, then very carefully he packed the journal and strapped it on his back, to be with him wherever he went. Noticing how the time had passed while he had been receiving the message from the dead, he hurried to the gorge to see if there were any signs of his friends, and his eyes went to the dark walls, and to the silent pool far below, with a feeling of intense repugnance at the thought of the ghoulish women who lurked unseen, but seeing all.
"Have you seen Ngonyama?"
"The smoke ascends no longer, Inkose; but we have seen the signal answered."
"Another smoke arose yet further off, and yet another, and beyond that another, till the word of the fire-makers was passed back even to the wide waters."
"Then it was not Ngonyama who made the fire."
"It was made by the enemy, Inkose."
"Have you sent out spies?"
"Of what use, lion's cub? Muata, the black one, hangs on their trail, and when the time has come he will spring. Wow! They are fools to come up by that path."
He went back deep in thought, and made up his mind to see the wise woman again. So he passed down into the valley, crossed the river to the new village built on a small flat-topped hill, and found the chief's mother sitting before his hut.
"I want my brothers," he said at once.
"The valley is open—search for them. You are a chief; put the men to the search. Why come to me?"
"Because you only know."
"Haw! If they are not in the valley they are out of the valley, and once they are out they have broken the law. Who am I that you should ask, since the law is made by the men?"
"Maybe, mother, they are not in the valley or out of the valley."
She threw a startled look at Compton, which he was keen to notice; then, with an expression of puzzlement, she nodded her head.
"Your meaning is dark, lion's cub. See, the valley is kraaled in like the goat-pen, and if the goats be not in the kraal they are outside the kraal. As for Ngonyama, see where the women build his hut against his coming."
"I see," said Compton. "Perhaps he was sent for by the chief, and has gone a journey, for the enemy are on the move."
"That is plainer to me," she said quickly. "It must be so, for the chief loves Ngonyama."
"Yes; that must be the reason. It lifts a load off my mind, mother."
"Ow aye I did not like to see your face clouded; and now you will make medicine for me?"
"I will; bat there are a few things I require. I am young at this work, mother, and cannot do without all the aids."
"Oh ay, I know," and she nodded her head with a fierce look in her eyes. "The blood of a man, the heart of a kid, and the tongue of a crocodile."
"No, no; a calabash of fat and a little wax. Only that."
"Your medicine is not like mine," she said musingly; "but I have it in my mind now that the good white man used much fat in his medicine."
She went into her hut, and returned presently with a calabash filled with fat and a square of wax.
"And ye will build fast canoes?"
"We will do great things, mother," said Compton, taking the things. "But it is not well that people should pry in upon one who is making medicine. He must have quiet."
"Wow! No one shall pass your house in the rocks, O wizard of mine."
He hurried up to the cave, passing the reed patch on his way to cut several stout stems, and began without delay his preparations for making candles. While the fat and wax were melting in a couple of "billies," he cut down the canes into sections of about six inches each, and buried them on end with the mouth up in soft ground near the bath, with a length of stout cord strung down the centre of each tube, and secured by a cross-piece. When the stuff had melted, he filled up the moulds, twelve in all, and left them to cool off. Then taking a stout cane left over, he cut away one of the joints, leaving a socket, thus converting it into a very handy candle-stick. Next he made up a parcel of food and medicine, carefully oiled his rifle, to protect it against the damp underground, and then went off up to the gorge to have a last look for his friends.
The warriors were buzzing about the barricade, evidently in a state of great excitement, and Compton saw the cause of this in the person of a solitary man ascending the slope from the direction of the pool.
"It is the chief's runner," said the men as the man came plainly into view.
Up he came, breasting the steep ascent with a look behind at frequent intervals as if he feared pursuit, and when he reached the wall, he drew a great breath of relief.
"Mawoh!" he grunted. "I saw the dead water heave, and there was a laugh from nowhere."
"What message?" asked one of the headmen.
"It is for Ngonyama," said the runner.
The headman fell back and looked at Compton, who then stepped forward.
"Give the message to me."
"Wow! This, then, is the chief's word. 'Say to Ngonyama, the great white one, that the enemy will come against the valley up from the dead water. Ngonyama will let them advance until they are in the jaws of the rocks. Then will Muata, the black one, fall on the rear and eat them up.' So said the chief."
Compton tamed to the headmen. "Where are the white chiefs?"
"We do not know, Inkose," they said uneasily.
"Ye will take the orders of your chief yourselves then, for unless my brothers are restored in safety, I will not help you."
"Maybe," said a man in a whisper, "the wizards have taken them to themselves to learn wisdom."
"Who are these wizards?" demanded Compton, sternly.
"Haw! Inkose, how shall we know?" But their eyes went fearfully to the silent walls of the gorge.
"Who does know?"
"We know not, Inkose. These things are not for us."
"I know;" and Compton eyed them sternly. "It is a woman who is chief in this place. Say to her the words of the chief, and bring me her reply."
They hesitated, muttering.
"Ye know the black one," said Dick, quietly. "He has asked for Ngonyama. Let the woman produce Ngonyama or give her authority, lest the black one turn his anger on you."
"The lion's cub says well," answered an old man. "I will go."
As he went off, Compton bade the indunas see to the defence, "For," said he, "without the white men, you will have to fight hard for your kraal." The indunas laughed as they gave their orders, saying that all they wished for was a good fight. Compton retired to his cave, and it was not long before the chiefs mother herself came up with her bodyguard of women, armed with bow and arrows.
"Ye sent for me, O great chief?" she cried, with a little mocking laugh.
"You have heard the chiefs message?"
"And this is my answer," she replied, pointing to the women. "We will meet the enemy."
"Ngonyama! I have heard that name too often. See, young one, there is not room in a kraal for two strong bulls."
She nodded her head with a very hard look in her eyes.
Compton kept down his rising wrath at this ominous speech.
"Very well, mother," he said quietly. "You know best. I will now get about my work, if ye order that I am left in silence."
"I will see to that," she answered; "and see to it that you do all I have asked, lest you also go to those wizards you spoke of to the men."
She looked at him meaningly, and went on with her escort.
Compton watched them out of sight, then ran to his moulds. Taking out the canes, he split them down in turn, disclosing a dozen candles, roughly moulded, and very greasy, but he hoped suitable for his venture. One he fixed in the socket of the torch, the others he packed away carefully in an oilskin bag. Then slinging on his carbine, bandolier, haversack, and making them all secure by strapping a belt over all, he crept through the opening at the far end of the cave, replaced the rock, and lit his candle. After much spluttering and a great deal of smoke, the flame caught, and he started on his tour, breathing a fervent hope that it would lead him to his lost friends.
A TERRIBLE NIGHT
We will return now to Mr. Hume, who was left supporting the unconscious form of Venning on the brink of the rushing river, with the vast vault above him, and the roar of sharp explosions bellowing at intervals through the hollows. As he stooped over his young companion, he caught a fluttering of the eyelids, and placing the boy on the ground with a pillow made by his rolled-up coat, he unfastened the little medicine-bag which each always carried, and gave him a strong restorative. Then he chafed the cold hands, took off the wet shoes, and did the same to the feet, which were like marble. As the blood circulated under the friction, Venning regained his colour, and suddenly looked about him.
"I'm here, lad," said Mr. Home, cheerily. "You grew a little dizzy, but you're all right."
"What's that noise?" asked the boy, breathlessly. Mr. Hume picked him up, and carried him to the door of the vault.
"Magnificent, isn't it? Aren't you glad we came? One of the wonders of the world; and you've got the crow over Dick this time."
Venning sighed. "It's rather awful," he muttered. "It's grand, lad, grand! See how the water juts out like a column of steam with the roar of a big gun, and how the light falls upon it in a thousand hues, as the fine spray falls."
Venning's eyes opened wide as they looked up. "Like golden rain at a display of fireworks."
"The very thing, lad," answered the hunter, enthusiastically.
Venning's eyes ranged slowly down to the well of green water arching out from the black wall, and then to the snow-white flood where the foam hissed in its giddy descent.
"Where is she?"
"She'll be back soon. But we cannot wait for her here—-there is too much moisture. We'll get back to a drier place."
Still carrying the boy, he made his way back to the great chamber, lit up mysteriously by those pale cones and glistening columns. Here he found a dry place in a comer, and after placing Venning on the ground, he struck a match.
"Here's a find," he said, pouncing on a piece of driftwood.
With his Ghoorka knife he soon split it up, and in a short time a fire was blazing, throwing a red reflection on the stalactites. It was an eerie place, echoing to the thunders of the explosions, with pitch-dark comers, and those ghost-like forms in the misty heights, but Mr. Hume would not allow his patient time to brood over the surroundings. He shaved off fragments of biltong for him to eat, talking cheerfully all the time, and at last had the satisfaction of seeing the overwrought nerves of the lad quieted in sleep. Then the anxiety that had filled him all the time appeared in the expression of his face, and he stepped away a few yards to send a call for the woman ringing up into the vault. The cry ran away mournfully in a series of diminishing echoes, but no answer came, and he looked to his weapons, built up the fire with other fragments of wood that had been evidently borne in at times of flood, and explored the cave. There was no sign of the woman anywhere, but he found three exits. Relinquishing any idea of following them until Venning was fit to walk, he returned to the fire, and sat down with his back to the rock waiting for the woman's return. If he felt doubt or fear, he fought against it, resolving that, come what would, his first care was to save his companion, but that there was cause for doubt he knew very well from the remarks and bearing of the woman. Probably, he thought, the secret of the underground was hers only, and she might well have a motive sufficiently strong to preserve that secret even at the sacrifice of their lives. Full of these thoughts, he began another examination of the cave, confining himself this time to a search of the floor. Going down on hands and knees, and carrying a lighted stick, he minutely inspected the thin layer of dust which had settled since the last flood-waters had rushed through. Traversing slowly the width of the cave, he found his own spoor and the spoor of the woman. Then working round with the object of finding which of the three openings she had taken on leaving, he came upon a calabash and a kaross made of goats'-skin. The calabash, from the smell, contained goats'-milk. Leaving the fire-stick to mark the spot to which he had carried his search, he went back to place the kaross over the sleeping boy. Then taking another stick from the fire, he took up the spooring from the place he had left off, and crawled inch by inch, till he came to the first exit. Here he saw his spoor entering together with the footprints of the woman, both very plain from the mud which had adhered to their feet. The woman, however, had not passed out. That, at any rate, was one point settled, and he went on with a feeling of distinct relief at the thought that there might be another way out than by the fearful track they had followed on entering. On nearing the second exit he paused, startled by what seemed to him the sound of shrill voices borne suddenly in a pause between the bellowing of the water-jets in the neighbouring vault. When he listened he could, however, distinguish no sound in the mutterings and the boomings that was human, and repressing a desire to cry out, he groped along up to the second exit. Here, however, there were no footprints. The surface was smooth rock, and he was passing on when something about the rock attracted his attention again. Leaving one of the sticks again to guide him on his return by its glowing end, he returned to the fire, rebuilt it, waited till it was fairly blazing, then with another glaring torch he ran to continue his search. He found what he had half expected, that the rock had been polished by the passage of many feet, which had worn out quite a marked depression. He also satisfied himself that the woman had not passed out there, for as her feet had been wet she must have left some trace on the smooth surface. There remained now the third and last exit, and as he edged away to the left, he saw that the beaten track also led in the same direction. He rose and walked, feeling for the opening with his right hand, and, coming to it, he was glad, but not surprised, to make two discoveries, first, that the well-marked path entered the opening, and second, that the woman had also passed that way. There was the spoor of one foot clearly outlined in particles of moist dust.
"That's good," he muttered, standing up. "But I don't like the look of that path. Means people. But what sort of people? And the kaross and the goats'-milk. People again. No good taking risks."
He went back to the fire, drew the sticks away, thrust the burning ends into crevices, and left the comer in darkness once more. Then he sat down by Venning with his rifle across his knees and waited. He had no thought of moving a foot from the cave until Venning was fit to move; he would let him have his sleep out, and if he was no better, well, then, he would carry him. So he sat waiting and watching, listening to the hoarse rumblings which all the time ascended from below, and to the tremendous reports, a little dulled by the intervening wall, made by the spurting water. He watched the coming of the night, marked the gradual fading of the sheen on the stalactites, until softly the shadows sank and merged into the darkness of the cave, leaving nothing visible but a faint gleam where the nearest sulphur cone stood.
Eerie it was in the dim light, eerier it was now in the dark, with those hoarse mutterings from beneath, and those thunderous reverberations pealing at irregular intervals through the unknown spaces above. He had his pipe, but his habitual caution deterred him from seeking its comfort, and he was glad he had abstained, and glad at having extinguished the fire, when suddenly he heard the sound of shrill laughter. A sullen roar from the water-hole beyond drowned the sound, but he knew in every fibre that he had not been mistaken. There were others beside him and Venning in the vaults, but not for a moment was he pleased at the thought. Instinct or the association of the place warned them of danger. For a long spell, however, he could distinguish nothing human in the hurly-burly of sounds, and then again, nearer and plainer, the shrill peal rang out exultant, with a note in it of some savage beast flinging back the news to the pack that the scent was hot.
Slowly he stooped his head to hear if Venning slept, for he dreaded what would happen if the boy awoke in the pitchy darkness and heard that demoniac cry. The boy's breathing came at regular intervals, and with a muttered prayer that he would sleep on, the Hunter felt for the trigger.
"Ngonyama!" From the height a voice calling to him dropped soft as the flight of a bat, faint as a whisper, yet clear as a bell in all that turmoil.
He smiled grimly, but did not answer. This was some trick of the woman. If she was friendly, why had she left them?
"Indhlovu! "—again it fell as from afar.
He ran his hand over the bandolier, loosened the cartridges, and let his fingers curl round the trigger again.
A gust of wind blowing through some fissure shrieked amid the heights as if terrified at having wandered into such a prison, then for a long time the old sounds continued to make sport in the vaults and tunnels without any interruption.
Then Venning suddenly woke, and Mr. Hume was in a fever to keep the boy's mind occupied, and to get him asleep again.
"Drink this," he said, picking up the calabash, "and go to sleep again."
Venning took a long drink, "I dreamt I was by the sea, listening to the waves. It was almost as good as being home again."
"That's right. It's the sound of water. Go to sleep again and dream of old England, the best medicine you could have."
"I think I will," said Venning; and, with a sigh, he pulled the kaross over him, being too tired out to wonder how it came there.
"Sleep well, lad, sleep well;" and the big hand rested on the boy's shoulder to comfort him with its touch, but the man's face was turned with a straining expression towards the exit which he had last inspected, for it seemed to him that he had seen a streak of light, such as would be thrown in advance by a torch.